For Tony Caldwell, Ken Anderson and Chris Torres, the recession has been good. So good, in fact, that the pair and their company, the Oklahoma Agents Alliance, is planning to expand – this after billing more than $142 million in premiums this year. “Our growth rate has outstripped even our own optimistic early projections,” said Caldwell, OAA owner and partner. “We have enjoyed an average annual compound growth rate of 31 percent over 10 years, and that’s been through some of the hardest economic times the country has seen in recent memory.”

Just a little more than 10 years old, the OAA is one of the United States’ largest independent property-casualty insurance agencies, according to the August issue of Insurance Journal. The OAA, the magazine said, entered the list at No. 87 and is one of only three Oklahoma-based companies named in the annual ranking. Insurance Journal bases the list on premiums written in the previous year, a standard benchmark for the insurance industry.

Caldwell said the firm is successful because of its business model. He said the OAA’s partnership approach overcame many barriers common in the industry. “We’ve built a better mousetrap,” he said. “And we have the opportunity to be successful. In our business it’s very difficult to start an insurance agency. There are lots and lots of impediments. Insurance companies are reluctant to give new agencies permission to sell products.”

Torres, OAA president, agreed. He said the agency’s partnership approach has underscored its growth. “It’s happened so quickly that I think many people will be surprised to see us on the list,” Torres said. “We started in 2001 with just one member agency, but the success of our model has attracted more than 80 agencies from across the state to join us in creating a vibrant organization that allows our members to compete with even the largest national agencies.”

Torres said the OAA’s mission was to establish an Oklahoma network of independent insurance agencies owned in partnership with what he calls entrepreneurial-spirited individuals. He said the member agencies remain truly independent, making their own decisions and pursuing their own business strategies. “This achievement proves that the partnership model OAA uses is not only feasible, but very successful for our member agencies, no matter their size or history,” he said.

Torres said the OAA works to form relationships with national carriers, creating opportunities that were previously unachievable for most agencies in Oklahoma. It provides member agencies advice, support, bonus negotiation and profit sharing with partner companies such as Travelers, The Hartford, Safeco, MetLife and others. “We are proud to represent Oklahoma on the national insurance scene,” Torres said.

And even though the nation’s economy continues to struggle, both Caldwell and Torres said they expect to hit the $250 million mark in premiums by 2015.

“In insurance, the little guy doesn’t make as much money as the big buy because companies pay more money the bigger the agent gets,” Caldwell said. “But the little guy needs more money. We solved that problem for those who want to be in property and casualty by partnering with others who want to be in property and casualty.”